Into the mines of Cerro Rico in Potosi, Bolivia

Having once gone down the deep claustrophobic shaft of a British mine many years ago, we had no desire to enter the mines of Cerro Rico (rich mountain) overlooking #Potosi, the world famous mountain & onetime origin of the world’s largest silver deposits – now mostly extracted. For starters, in the place where upto 8 million indigenous worker-slaves & black African slaves are believed to have died/been killed by their Spanish masters, this seemed like the worst kind of tourism. But after a few days in Potosi you realise how much the mines define the city, so to better understand this complex relationship & history we signed up for a tour.

Not just any tour – we found an agency run by ex-miners (mostly retired through injury), whose guides were ex-miners, who luckily spoke decent English, and who donated money back to the working miners (see Big Deal Tours at Calle Bustillos #1092, corner with Calle Ayucucho). Providing safety equipment, a visit to a refining company (the process of extracting minerals from the mined rocks), views of cerro Rico, and a tour of a working mine. So we turned up in trepidation at 8.30am on 24 March in central Potosi, to join a tour with 3 other Europeans and 2 Spanish speakers. Continue reading

Advertisements

Hailstorm, floods and #MarParaBolivia in Potosi

We rolled into #Potosi in southern Bolivia on the afternoon of 22 March to be greeted with warm sun & blue skies. Some two hours later a 40 minute hailstorm caused chaos across the city, leading to floods in its lower areas and a city-wide power cut, and drenching our boots & a full set of clothes. Yet within two hours of the hail a march and rally was under way in the city centre in support of #MarParaBolivia (sea for Bolivia), with many schoolkids marching as they shivered. As did we.

Potosi sits in the south-western altiplano of Bolivia, and we reached it from Sucre with another stunning coach journey across country lasting about 4 hours. Potosi’s ‘new’ bus station is enormous, and appeared very underused. An old banger of a taxi took 3 of us into the city centre for just 15 bolivianos though.  At a height of some 4100m Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world, and one of the most tragic given its history under colonialism & after independence in 1826 – it’s gone from one of the richest & largest cities in the world during it’s silver boom in the 16th & 17th centuries, to one of the poorest & saddest places in Bolivia today, although it retains some pride in its turbulent history & capacity for rebellion. Continue reading

What’s this – a Chapel in our garden!?

Well not actually our garden of course, but in our ‘casa colonial hostel’ (colonial era house hostel) near the centre of #Cochabamba there was a chapel tucked away in the otherwise luscious green garden! During our stay we did not see anyone using it, but it was clearly well maintained, even if it must have originally been built many centuries before. From over the garden wall we could also hear regular bouts of singing etc from the church virtually next door.

Perhaps given the history of south America we shouldn’t have been so surprised. We’ve commented before about the extensive & ongoing domination of catholicism in Peru going back nearly 500 years, and the reasons for this. In Bolivia it is much the same (Bolivia was once called Alto Peru, or Upper Peru, by the Spanish) – colonial era churches, monasteries & schools continue to dominate the former colonial centres of cities & towns. Whilst as often as not very large crosses or figures of (the white) Christ are prominent on the hills overlooking urban centres.

Cochabamba’s own ‘White Christ’ looks down from on high

‘we are praying for you’ – evangelists in Cochambamba’s centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is not just the old-school catholics that are present either. We have been surprised to note just how many evangelical style new churches we’ve come across in Bolivia. They may not utilise the levels of oppression used by the colonial catholics, instead they often offer varying levels of social support such as food kitchens (echos of the new poverty back in the UK), but their aim remains the same – to civilise and ‘to save’ the the local population.

Back in Cusco, Peru, we’d become aware of how many evangelical missionaries were still coming into Peru & Bolivia to save souls etc, having had the misfortune, and shock, to overhear some of their planning sessions in one location. It is clear that whilst old-style colonialism may have ended, it has been replaced by equally insidious forms that go hand in hand with the continued economic exploitation of the region & attempts to ‘control’ it. The local people still have some way to go to truly free themselves from over 500 years of misery & subjugation.

Feast! Of the Immaculate Conception. Of course!

The city of Cusco, Peru, in the Andes, is it seems a city of many festivities, celebrations & feasts. Most, but not quite all these days, have their roots in Spanish colonialism & government, and the enforcement of the Catholic faith. So within our first 3 full days in Cusco we witnessed not only a regional celebration in the main square of the creation of the national police service (6th December), but also the Feast day of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December.

cusco_virginOn the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we saw members many of Cusco’s 40+ Catholic churches parade around the streets of their locality, carrying on their shoulders huge statues of the Virgin Mary. It just happened to be pissing down for much of the day, but it didnt seem to dampen their arduour. Leaving aside the absurdity of both the Immaculate Conception – impregnated by…the Holy Spirit? Please! – and the birth of Jesus Christ less than 3 weeks later on Christmas day, one wonders why on earth Cusquenians fell for this story? Continue reading